Aprilia MotoGP set to initiate ‘Plan B’, Max Biaggi to test in Sepang?

Aprilia Racing moves towards 'Plan B' in the continued absence of Andrea Iannone, with former MotoGP rider Max Biaggi linked to a testing role in Sepang

Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone

With little more than three weeks until MotoGP fires back into action for the 2020 season, Aprilia Racing is busily preparing a workaround for the likelihood it will be unable to call upon the services of the sidelined Andrea Iannone.

The Italian rider is currently suspended from competition after testing positive for a banned Exogenous Anabolic Androgenic Steroid ‘drostanolone’ during a routine drug test at the 2019 Malaysian MotoGP round. Having allowed the B sample to be tested too, Iannone’s lawyer confirmed to the Italian press last week that it had also come back positive.

For now, Iannone remains sidelined as WADA and the FIM considers its verdict, but while Iannone’s representatives maintain the traces found amount to an accidental ingestion, at the very least it is expected this appeal could take weeks to resolve regardless of the outcome.

As such, Aprilia will action a back-up plan in the absence of Iannone with test rider Bradley Smith set to make a return to the series in a ‘de facto’ team-mate role to Aleix Espargaro that – depending on a resolution to Iannone’s predicament – would see him start the season as its race rider.

What complicates matters for Aprilia, however, is the upcoming tests will be the first roll-out for its brand-new MotoGP machine, which is expected to be the most significantly different of the six entries this season compared with last year.

The manufacturer is abandoning the V4 configuration borne from the Aprilia RSV4 superbike in favour of a 90-degree unit as used by Ducati and Honda in an effort to improve competitiveness following a run of disappointing seasons.

As such, it will still need to run three bikes during pre-season testing to bring it up to speed before the Qatar opener.

Max Biaggi to test with Aprilia MotoGP at Sepang?

Top of this list could be Karel Abraham, who was originally signed to Avintia Ducati before he was ousted in favour of Johann Zarco. The Czech rider has reportedly already been in touch with Aprilia to fill the void, despite announcing his ‘retirement’ from the sport in the wake of his sudden exit.

There is also an option in Lorenzo Savadori, who competed with Aprilia in the WorldSBK Championship up until the 2018 season and more recently raced in Moto E. The Italian was supposed to be returning to WorldSBK this year with Pedercini Kawasaki, but financial troubles in the team has reportedly forced it to slim down its efforts at the behest of Savadori.

The wild-card choice could be Aprilia’s double WorldSBK champion and former MotoGP rider Max Biaggi, who remains tied to the company as an ambassador and has even been active in recent weeks at Sepang riding the Aprilia RSV X, a track day version of the RSV4.

The fabled ‘Roman Emperor’ has said he is ‘tempted’ by the prospect of returning in a move that would drum up some much-needed positive publicity for the Italian marque, while Aprilia technical director Romano Albesiano is also seemingly keen…

“We may be joining someone from Bradley Smith [for testing],” he said.. “Abraham contacted us after the news from Iannone, and obviously he would be impatient to return to MotoGP. We talked about it but nothing was decided. 

“It is also a possibility to use Biaggi and Savadori. Yes, both are in plan B. Max Biaggi is so great that we would like to see it everywhere at Aprilia. It would also be great to see it in MotoGP… ”

If Biaggi does test it will almost certainly be a one-off outing. The Italian will be closely involved in the running of his own team - Max Racing - which competes in the Moto3 World Championship.